The third and final set of Galactic’s annual Lundi Gras blowout at Tipitina’s, dubbed the “sunrise set,” traditionally doesn't conclude until the sun officially rises on Mardi Gras morning around 6:30 a.m.
But only a handful of hardy fans generally endure to the very end. Thus, Galactic saxophonist and harmonica player Ben Ellman has been lobbying his bandmates to call it a night, or a morning, slightly earlier.
“I’m pushing to not call it the ‘sunrise set’ anymore,” Ellman said this week. “We’re probably going to end at first light. By the time you get to your car or call your Uber, it should be light outside.”
At which point, no one should feel short-changed.
And it’s not as if Galactic is slacking off. The hybrid New Orleans contemporary funk band will also headline Tipitina’s on Friday and Saturday. Those gigs will conclude earlier than Lundi Gras, though still in the wee hours — show time isn’t until 11 p.m.
Miss Mojo opens for Galactic on Friday, followed by Flow Tribe on Saturday and San Francisco-based funk-soul party band Con Brio on Monday. Tickets are $27 for the Friday and Saturday shows, $50 for Lundi Gras.
Tipitina’s employees met Monday for the first time with their new bosses — bosses they already knew in a different context: as musicians.
Galactic added a third night to their Carnival stand at Tip’s this year “just because,” Ellman said. “We have an easier time getting booked there now, from what I’m told.”
That's true. Ellman and his bandmates — drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel — purchased Tipitina’s on Nov. 30.
Three months later, “it’s still fun,” Ellman said. “But the reality that it’s another job has definitely sunk in. Not that we had any doubts about that, but a lot more conference calls, group texts and meetings have entered our lives.
“But it’s still really exciting going to the club and thinking of the future and all the stuff we’d like to do. The energy feels good right now.”
All five band members have long, personal histories with Tipitina’s. Ellman moved to New Orleans from California nearly 30 years ago after visiting and being offered a gig with the Lil Rascals Brass Band.
His first steady job was as a cook in Tipitina’s old kitchen. In addition to grilling burgers for patrons, he also heated up the pre-made crawfish étouffée and gumbo served to bands. Later, he was promoted to spotlight operator.
He still can’t quite grasp that he co-owns a building, business and legacy containing so much cultural history. “It’s not like buying any other business. It’s an institution. It’s been there before us, and it’ll be there after us.”
Following the purchase, “there wasn’t a lot of ‘congratulations.’ It was mostly ‘thank you.’ That tells you that Tipitina’s belongs to the city. It’s part of the city and should always be.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to feel like I own it. The general manager is constantly saying, ‘You know that you do own this place, right?’
“It’s an awesome responsibility. We can’t (screw) it up. We’re learning the business, but that takes time. We have a lot of ideas that get shot down for very logical reasons.”
Being in Galactic is a demanding job, as well. Galactic is often incorrectly classified as a jam band. They do frequently stretch out onstage, but they also record concise, well-constructed songs featuring a wide array of guest vocalists. Case in point: the melodic and funky Irma Thomas showcase “Heart of Steel,” from 2010’s “Ya-Ka-May.”
The band’s brand new “Already Ready Already” is filled with similarly succinct songs. As co-producers of the album, were Ellman and Mercurio especially focused on making tight, melodic tracks this time around?
“I kind of think we always are, especially on a record,” Ellman said. “I don’t know if that’s by design, or by us being older and more experienced. But it’s where we’re at.”
On a foggy night in December, Galactic bassist Rob Mercurio paused on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue, pondering the en…
New Orleans-based YouTube sensation Princess Shaw, the subject of the 2016 documentary film “Presenting Princess Shaw,” lights up the song “Going Straight Crazy.” The uptempo “Clap Your Hands” spotlights local R&B singer Miss Charm Taylor.
Erica Falls, who tours with Galactic as the band’s featured vocalist, contributed “Touch Get Cut.” The title is based on a note Falls affixed to containers of food aboard the Galactic tour bus, to discourage the rest of the band from pilfering her leftovers.
Featuring Falls, who releases her own records as well, on a Galactic album “was long overdue,” Ellman said. “We really wanted her on this record. She’s an amazing singer and such a sweet person. She’s awesome to be around.”
“Already Ready Already” is a totally in-house project: It was produced by band members, recorded at their own local recording studio and released via their Tchoup-Zilla Records.
Being wholly independent allows them to break away from the old model of releasing a “big” album every two years, then touring to promote it. Instead, they plan to drop more concise recordings more frequently, interspersed with shorter bursts of touring.
“Whenever we’re home, we’re working in our studio,” Ellman said. “We had a pile of songs that we pared down to make something a little more cohesive with ‘Already Ready Already.’ We have a lot of other songs that are good to go.”
But first, they must power through Carnival. When the epic Lundi Gras gig ends early Mardi Gras morning, Ellman will head home, make breakfast, take a short nap and then meet up with Julu, the guerilla krewe he’s marched with for 27 years.
At noon, hundreds of Julu revelers will set out from Barrel Proof Bar & Kitchen in the 1200 block of Magazine Street. Accompanied by the New Birth Brass Band, they’ll wind along the Mississippi riverfront, stop at One Eyed Jacks in the French Quarter, then end up at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street, where Ellman performs with the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars.
It’s a grueling 24 hours. But the marathon Lundi Gras gig, the band’s longest of the year, is still something Ellman enjoys. “It’s hella fun to have a tradition like that to keep us young and keep us out.”
Just not past sunrise.